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How Often Should Teams Scrimmage in Practice?

By Dan Pollard, 03/27/18, 2:30PM EDT


Breakaway Podcast presented by Dodge Caravan Kids

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

“Hey Coach! Are we scrimmaging today?”

Before every practice, chances are a coach is asked this exact question. With every moment of ice time valuable, finding a way to maximize practice and getting the most out of each session can be balancing act for coaches.

The latest episode of the Breakaway Podcast featured a roundtable discussion about this topic with host Dan Pollard, Ian Taylor, the Executive Director of the OMHA and Kevin Hamilton, the Director of Hockey Development with the OMHA.

It comes down to keeping players engaged throughout practice and that doesn’t necessarily have to be through a scrimmage.

"Competition is good but it doesn’t all have to be 5-on-5. I really dislike seeing players on the bench at practice. Let’s keep everyone on the ice, engaged, maximizing that ice time."

“I don’t think it’s a simple answer but I think it’s defined by where your team is at in their seasonal plan, what their skill development level is and how you define what a scrimmage is,” said Hamilton.

In terms of skill development and skill identification, scrimmage may not be the best opportunity for player evaluating and skill assessment. With just one player in possession of the puck and half the team on the bench it can be tough for players to grow despite it mimicking what a real game looks like.

Where scrimmage can become a valuable tool is mixing in teaching opportunities. Coaches can stop a scrimmage mid-play at certain points to explain concepts to players and using certain scenarios as teachable moments.

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

“I’m a huge believer in introducing competitive situations into your practice and situations that are game-like. Do I think that has to be 5-on-5, full ice? I don’t,” said Taylor. “I think in most cases you’re going to see teams using smaller areas, whether its cross-ice, whether it’s in a corner, even just an endzone drill. There’s two main areas there. You want to emulate what happens in a game and I think ending practice with fun competition, kids eat it up.”

Different drills teach concepts like support, spacing, puck movement and timing. Conditioning and stamina can be worked on through other fun games and creative outlets on the ice.

“That scrimmage really should bring all those elements together. That’s certainly more for the older players. Younger players you can introduce different things as well. I know with young players, we would have multiple pucks out there so it wasn’t just one puck. We’d get more players engaged. We’d use tennis balls, small nets. You can just build it from there,” said Taylor. “I think that’s what it is. Competition is good but it doesn’t all have to be 5-on-5. I really dislike seeing players on the bench at practice. Let’s keep everyone on the ice engaged, maximizing that ice time.”

Coaches can get ahead of the game by coming up with a practice plan and lessons in advance, not leaving them scrambling at the end of practice trying to use the last minutes of ice time. It keeps things fresh for coaches and players alike.

“A lot of times kids thrive on routine and they like to see the same thing and do the same thing time in and time out,” said Hamilton. “To introduce wrinkles to that is always good and keeps them thinking and keeps them engaged.”

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Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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